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Students attend the first of three seminars on daily life in Japan.

Dr. Michele Mason’s monthly events provide invaluable cultural tips for students interested in Japanese lifestyle.

On October 8, Assistant Professor in East Asian Languages and Cultures Dr. Michele Mason launched the first of three seminars for students to learn about daily life in Japan. While students snacked on delicious Japanese treats, Dr. Mason stated her goals for the series of “cooperative, integrated,” sessions. She encouraged class discussion, saying: “I’m not gonna come up here and talk at you.” Of the 13 students present, class levels varied from the 100s to 400s and roughly half had visited Japan before. Despite the wide range of experiences, Dr. Mason insisted that students of all language proficiencies are welcome to join even if they can only stay for the first half hour. “There are no grades,” she said. “You just get to follow your curiosity and what you want to know.” With that, she loaded her PowerPoint presentation and launched into Tuesday’s theme: trains and toilets.

“It’s always a bit of a culture shock to come back from Japan,” Dr. Mason said, referring to the ease and comfort she enjoys on the Japanese rail network. Students couldn’t help but make comparisons to the Washington, D.C.-area public transit system. “What do you mean, the trains don’t come on time?” one student joked. The Japanese do take their trains seriously: of the 52 busiest train stations in the world, close to 40 are located in the tiny Asian archipelago. Train station exits are common meeting places. For example, the Shibuya station in Tokyo is home to the beloved Hachiko statue, a monument honoring a faithful dog that greeted its owner upon his arrival at the station even years after the man’s death. Chances are, a friend in that neighborhood of Tokyo will suggest meeting by Hachiko—a task often easier said than done. “The first time, it’s always going to be disorienting, so you really do have to take your emotional toolkit with you,” Dr. Mason said. But there are always plenty of people who are willing to help. “You don’t have to panic; you don’t have to fuss. You just have to have patience.”

These pieces of advice served students just as well in the next topic of discussion: toilets. “There are about 50 ways you can flush a toilet in Japan,” Dr. Mason explained, as the country has a variety of commode styles. Squat toilets are ubiquitous, but are often an uncomfortable option for Westerners, as they don’t offer much more than a hole in the ground. But according to Dr. Mason, “It’s great for the thighs. The thighs get really strong. You have to look for the positive things in life.” On the other end of the spectrum are “space-age” toilets with heated seats, adjustable water jets, and air dryers. “I think the moral of your story is know your toilet,” Dr. Mason advised. With a smile, she added, “This is precisely why I’m here for you.”

Brendan Cone, a senior Japanese and Chinese double-major, was one of the most enthusiastic participants at the first Daily Life in Japan seminar. “I thought it was kind of a novelty, and it was interesting,” he said. “The Japanese are known for focusing on certain things…that we in America don’t really think about.” Cone has ventured to Japan twice, most recently to the more western part of the country. Traveling by train while there enabled him to see many culturally significant places such as the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, the Itsukushima Shrine near Hiroshima, and the site where the first atomic bomb was detonated in World War II. Even with firsthand knowledge of Japan, Cone still plans to attend the next Daily Life in Japan seminar—Thursday, November 7, 4-5:30 PM in JMZ 0205—which will take students on a virtual walk through Tokyo.

Seminars have been extended to March 17 3:30-5, and April 9 3:30-5 in jmz 0205


Samantha Suplee ('14, Spanish Language & Literature and History)
SLLC Public Relations and Media Intern